Shake it off and step up

This article is excerpted from Deborah Ragsdale’s outgoing president’s speech, delivered at the 67th IAPD Annual Convention in San Diego, CA USA, October 23 – 26, 2023.

by Deborah Ragsdale, Polymer Industries
Outgoing IAPD President 2022 – 2023


wo years ago, in Louisville, Kentucky, I stepped up on a stage and thanked you all for the opportunity you had given me to serve as president of this association. I was slightly overwhelmed with the very thought of it, and without all the planning and help available through the staff of the IAPD and the volunteers associated with it, I most certainly would have failed. I have realized over the past few years as the vice president and then president, how much is needed from all of us to keep the plastics industry from giving in to the bad publicity and politics surrounding the name “plastics,” and to keep trying to get the message about all the good we do and the benefits of plastics in the world today. I have seen the industry fight adversity and time after time initiate a campaign to prove the “right” side of the industry. All of those incidents that I have seen have reminded me of a parable I once heard. A story about overcoming hardship and pressing onward regardless of what we are facing.

Deborah Ragsdale headshot
This parable is told of a farmer who owned an old mule. The mule fell into the farmer’s well. The farmer heard the mule praying or braying or whatever mules do when they fall into wells.

After carefully assessing the situation, the farmer sympathized with the mule but decided that neither the mule nor the well was worth the trouble of saving. Instead, he called his neighbors together, told them what had happened, and enlisted them to help haul dirt to bury the old mule in the well and put him out of his misery.

Initially, the old mule was hysterical! But as the farmer and his neighbors continued shoveling and the dirt hit his back, a thought struck the old mule. It suddenly dawned on him that every time a shovel load of dirt landed on his back, HE WOULD SHAKE IT OFF AND STEP UP!

This he did, blow after blow. “Shake it off and step up … shake it off and step up … shake it off and step up!” He repeated to encourage himself. No matter how painful the blows, or how distressing the situation seemed, the old mule fought panic and just kept right on SHAKING IT OFF AND STEPPING UP!

It wasn’t long before the old mule, battered and exhausted, stepped triumphantly over the wall of that well. What seemed like it would bury him actually helped him, all because of the manner in which he handled his adversity.

That my good friends, is life in the plastic industry. We will triumph and climb out of that deep well if we face our problems, respond to them positively and refuse to give in to panic, bitterness or self-pity. I ask each of you to recall this parable when we all face yet another obstacle that is meant to paralyze the performance plastics industry. We must do it together.

I want to begin by saying thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart, for the incredible journey. To the Board of Directors, who have shown unwavering support and dedication to our cause over the years, I extend my deepest thanks. Your guidance and commitment have been invaluable.

I also want to acknowledge the years of hard work and dedication put in by our Executive Committee members. Your tireless efforts have played a significant role in shaping the success of our association. Without your dedication, we would not be where we are today.

Illustration of a donkey standing on a stone well, on top of grass

I must also take a moment to recognize the company that has been my anchor throughout this journey, Polymer Industries. Your support and encouragement have allowed me to take on this role with confidence, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to represent such a remarkable organization. In Louisville two years ago, all three of the Saigal’s made the long trip to support me as I stood on this stage, knowing that should tell you all how very much I owe this company and the great men who lead us. For thirty-four years I have known you all had my back and would support me, no matter what. Again, I thank you.

To all the past presidents who have led the way and set a high standard for our association, I offer my deepest appreciation. Your leadership has paved the path for the accomplishments we celebrate today. Jane Saale, thank you for being the trailblazer that you are. I walked into my first board meeting 11 years ago and it was being led by our first woman IAPD president. I knew at that moment, I wanted to be the second. You are an inspiration. To the other presidents who have inspired me along the way, Kevin Short, Mitch Opalich, Rick Gough, Wayne Gono and Craig Saunders. I will always respect you for the roles you each played in my being here today.

I want to extend a very special thank you to Susan, our CEO, and the incredible staff that are serving now, and in the past few years, at IAPD – The Performance Plastics Association. Your hard work behind the scenes has been instrumental in bringing our vision to life. Together, we have achieved great things.